Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Indian Colored Pencils Comparison


My Indian colored pencil collection (most were given to me by generous fellow pencil aficionados).

A recent discussion among the pencil cognoscenti (also known as the Erasable Podcast Pencil Community Facebook group) prompted me to pull out all the India-made colored pencils in my collection. Although I already knew that Sivo Vivid is a favorite (it’s one of my picks for wallet-friendly colored pencils), I had never done a side-by-side comparison. One rainy morning, I decided to swatch a few select colors from each set and see how they stacked up.

The Nataraj and Apsara Dual sets are very hard, dry and low in pigment. I would not recommend them. The Camlin Premium Bi-Colours have much better pigment and are soft enough to be pleasant to use. (Note: My set says “Camlin,” but I could find it on Amazon only as “Camel” with the same camel logo and all other parts of the packaging identical. I’m assuming this is a name change of the same product.)

Interestingly, Nataraj, Apsara and Sivo are all made by the same company, Hindustan, which also makes many types of graphite pencils. Camlin/Camel is made by Kokuyo.

5/2/21 DOMS Supersoft in Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook

The two sets made by DOMS Industries –
 DOMS Supersoft and Zap Bicolours – are as soft and pigmented as my previous recommendation, Sivo Vivid. (By soft, I don’t mean Prismacolor soft; I mean closer to Polychromos.) I would happily add them to my recommended India-made pencils, although they may be harder to find. I couldn’t find an exact match on Amazon for the Zap set I have (and the price I’m currently seeing on the Supersofts, 12 for $36, is way over-inflated; I’m sure I’ve seen them for much less).

One thing all Indian pencils have in common, including graphite pencils, is that they are reasonably priced (and some are ridiculously inexpensive). Almost all of these were gifts, so I don’t know the exact prices, but I did purchase the Sivo Vivid set myself on Amazon for about $8 for set of 36 a few years ago. (It’s a bit more now on the set I found on eBay, but still a good value.) Although they are unlikely to be artist quality, the Sivo and DOMS sets are all good quality and therefore a terrific value.

As I was searching for links and prices on Amazon for this post, I happened to spot a set of DOMS Aqua watercolor pencils. Now, I know watercolor pencils tend not to be comparable in quality to traditional colored pencils in the same price range, but for a set of 12 for 8 bucks? It was worth satisfying my curiosity. Stay tuned. (I know you love cliffhangers.)

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Threading the Needle


5/1/21 Maple Leaf neighborhood

Often when I sketch from my car, I’m frustrated because I know a better view could be had if I felt safe enough standing on a narrow sidewalk (or if it weren’t raining and I could get out). This view, however, was the other way around: From walking by many times, I knew that the view I wanted would be from a parked car.

Driving home from an errand Saturday morning, I saw that the ideal parking spot was available: A perfect needle-eye view of the utility poles and their wires threading through this tree.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Cherry to the Southwest

4/29/21 Southwest corner of 4th NE and NE 85th

 One of many blossoming trees on my walking route that I didn’t get around to sketching this year was this cherry. It’s on the southwest corner of the same intersection where I’ve sketched from the traffic circle several times (most recently to the northeast and the northwest corners). The house on this corner is set back from the street behind a jungle of foliage, so this cherry is the only thing clearly visible.

Although its blossoms are gone, it has an intriguing “foot” – something I hadn’t noticed when I was dazzled by its pinkness. It’s one of the best benefits of sketching: I see so much more once I open my sketchbook.

Typically, this whole street and intersection are quiet; during previous sketches, maybe only one or two cars would go by the entire time. Unfortunately, I sketched this last Thursday, which is trash day. Both the garbage and the recycle trucks came by multiple times, sometimes stopping in the middle of the intersection for a quick corner pick-up. Even a truck hauling a huge, flat-bed trailer (empty) came through! All in only half an hour!

Also in my view... but not long enough to sketch!

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Third Place Books

4/28/21 Third Place Books in Ravenna

Although Third Place Books in the Ravenna neighborhood is only about a mile away, I have spent more time and money at its other branch in Lake Forest Park. That’s because USk Seattle has met at Third Place Commons numerous times, and a stop at the book store is always fun.

To celebrate Independent Bookstore Day last Saturday, I ordered from three local shops – Phinney Books, Elliott Bay Book Company and Third Place Books in Ravenna – and they all kindly offered curbside pickup services. In addition, Blackwing put out a limited-edition pencil to commemorate the day, so of course I had to get some of those, too.

I scored an ideal parking spot at Third Place facing the trellised entryway to Café Arta and Pub, which is adjacent to the bookstore. The café has an inviting-looking patio (with heaters, a sign assured chilly potential patrons) that I hope to enjoy sometime soon.

Books and limited-edition pencils, too!

Saturday, May 1, 2021

The Profoundly Ordinary

4/28/21 A rare alley in Maple Leaf

I listen to the SneakyArt Podcast. In his recent interview with Urban Sketchers founder Gabi Campanario, host Nishant Jain talked about how urban sketching is, for him, about capturing all the small moments that make up our routine, everyday lives – the kind of moments that may be overlooked as not special enough to bother sketching. He used the phrase “people doing profoundly ordinary things” to describe these moments, and I felt moved by that phrase.

As busy sketching as I have been throughout the pandemic, what I have missed most is being around people and capturing them doing profoundly ordinary things. But even when people are nowhere to be seen, mundane neighborhood scenes strike me in the same way  beautiful in their profound ordinaryness.

By the way, I highly recommend the podcast. It’s the only one I know of that focuses specifically on urban sketching. Nishant’s guest list reads like the who’s who of urban sketching, and the interviews are always well-focused, inspiring and stimulating. He also now provides a well-edited transcript for those who prefer to read the highlights instead of listening.

4/13/21 The last of the cherry trees

4/26/21 The concrete mixer left just as I finished the sketch!

Friday, April 30, 2021

Seduced by Hot Press Again (This Time, Stonehenge)

4/23/21 Caran d'Ache Museum Aquarelle
pencils on Stonehenge hotpress

Other than trying a student-grade pad of Fabriano years ago, the closest I have come to regular use of a hot press paper was when I thought Stillman & Birn Zeta could be “the one” (a commercial sketchbook as my daily-carry for urban sketching after years of binding my own). I had grown to love Zeta (and its lighter-weight sister, Epsilon) at home, where I used it frequently to draw still lives with colored and graphite pencils as well as all kinds of ink. But the honeymoon with Zeta ended when I discovered a weird mottling that occurred when I had spritzed the surface, one of my favorite techniques with watercolor pencils. Although Zeta is heavy enough to take wet washes and claims to be suitable for wet media, I had discovered something unpleasant about its sizing. I still enjoy using it with more traditional watercolor pencil techniques, but not with spritzing.

S&B Beta, with a surface closer to cold press and better sizing, turned out to be a better all-purpose urban sketching book, and it’s been my daily-carry for a couple of years now. I almost always prefer a visible cold press texture, which brings out the best in watercolor pencils. And yet, every now and again, I find myself seduced by the delightfully smooth surface of hot press.

A tiny sample pad of Stonehenge Aqua hotpress

In addition to Aqua Coldpress and White, another paper I tested in the Legion Stonehenge sampler set (full review at the Well-Appointed Desk) is Aqua Hotpress. With a surface that feels identical to the 90-pound White, Aqua Hotpress has a 140-pound weight and is sized for wet media. What makes the White and Aqua Hotpress (and several other Stonehenge papers) special is a unique, velvety surface with a clearly visible tooth compared to most hot press papers, including Zeta. From my paper experience, its tooth is somewhere between Beta and Zeta – which could be quite a sweet spot for me (if other important factors such as spritzability are also present). The little taste I got while testing the sample gave me a craving for more.

[Pardon me while I pause here to say that it drives this former editor crazy to see Stonehenge’s use of “Hotpress” and “Coldpress” as single words while the rest of the paper industry uses the terms as two words. Auughh! OK, I’ve recovered and can move on.]

4/23/21 Museum Aquarelle on Stonehenge Aqua Hotpress

Before buying larger sheets of Hotpress, I took my tiny sample pad out with me on a recent neighborhood walk. The pad’s 2 ½-by-3 ¾-inch size was tricky for urban sketching – scaling is a challenge for me under any circumstance – but I found a basketball hoop and an excavator that fit. As during my initial tests, that light but distinctive tooth was a joy to use with watercolor pencils. At home, I spritz-tested a sheet in the two ways I use most often when urban sketching: wet-in-wet by applying color with the “licking” method; and spraying dry pigment previously applied to the paper (below). The results look satisfactory, but both techniques require real-world sketching to evaluate fully. These mini sketches and tests were enough to convince me to spring for a 9-by-12-inch block of Aqua Hotpress.

Museum Aquarelle applied wet-in-wet

Dry Museum Aquarelle pigment spritzed

At more than a dollar a sheet, the block is a bit pricey to burn through at my typical urban sketching rate. (Though I just did the math, and it works out to be about the same as the softcover S&B Beta I use regularly.) Tearing down full-size sheets would be much more economical, of course, but it’s difficult to find space to do that in my small studio. Perhaps I’d use sheets from blocks only when I travel, when I still intend to bind a sketchbook (ahh, travel. . . remember that?). Just muttering aloud here as I anticipate a renewed paper tizzy.

Regardless of how well the Aqua Hotpress fares in urban sketches, I can still use the block during a class that I’m looking forward to taking next month. I think the paper would be scrumptious with colored pencils, dry or wet.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Orange is the New Pink


4/22/21 Northgate neighborhood

Last week, on what was expected to be the last beautiful day in our lucky weather streak, I went out aiming for pink trees. With one in my sights, I was looking for a place to park, when bright orange caught my eye: Road work ahead! I pulled over where I had a good view of the crew worker turning her sign from STOP to SLOW and back again.

You can tell it’s been a long pandemic year when I crave sketching people so much that I’ll give up a pink tree for them.

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